|"I LOVE technology!"|
No, really. It’s in Smith’s Theory of Moral Sentiments. Admittedly, this blindness toward the effect of technology is particularly remarkable in Smith as he wrote at the beginning of the Industrial Revolution and was already seeing some of the effects.
Nevertheless, Smith expounded at some length on a crucial observation. This is the fact that the rich can either satisfy their wants and desires for that which is above the common or the bare necessaries by hiring servants, buying the labor productions of others, or purchasing technology. As he said,
How many people ruin themselves by laying out money on trinkets of frivolous utility? What pleases these lovers of toys is not so much the utility, as the aptness of the machines which are fitted to promote it. All their pockets are stuffed with little conveniencies. They contrive new pockets, unknown in the clothes of other people, in order to carry a greater number. They walk about loaded with a multitude of baubles, in weight and sometimes in value not inferior to an ordinary Jew’s-box, some of which may sometimes be of some little use, but all of which might at all times be very well spared, and of which the whole utility is certainly not worth the fatigue of bearing the burden. (Smith, The Theory of Moral Sentiments. Book IV, Chapter I, §6.)
Agreeing with G.K. Chesterton (sort of), Smith reasoned that employing numbers of people is to be preferred over ownership of technology because it adds the moral sentiment of approbation both from those employed (probably out of gratitude for their employment) and from others in recognition of the employer’s status as a rich and beneficent employer (Smith counted beneficence as a moral sentiment, somewhat analogous to an admixture of charity and justice). The purchaser of technology is seen as a figure to be ridiculed (much like the “computer nerd” of today), and so is not due the same sentiment of approbation as the employer of hundreds who provide him with the same utility and convenience as that supplied by technology to its owner.
Absolutely. As Smith explained in The Theory of Moral Sentiments,
|Yup. That's the guy.|
Ordinarily we wouldn’t have relied on such an extended quote, but it is essential to give the context — and Smith’s actual words — when pointing out that he seemed far more concerned with the owners of labor than with the owners of capital. To make our case, we need only point out two items from the above passage:
· The rich are described as “proud and unfeeling,” consumed with “selfishness and rapacity,” and clearly labeled inhumane and unjust, intending nothing other than “the gratification of their own vain and insatiable desires,” and yet,
· The rich are forced to act in a manner that benefits others in order to satisfy their own desires, regardless how selfish or inordinate, for (in Smith’s opinion) they can do so only through the labor of others, thereby resulting in a distribution of the necessities of life equivalent to that which would have occurred had the Earth been equitably divided among everyone.
Of course, there is an enormous flaw in Smith’s argument, but it wasn’t because he took the part of the rich against the poor. Exactly the opposite, in fact, as we will see when we look at this subject again.